When Ben Jacobsen moved to Scandinavia to complete his MBA, he quickly fell in love with the earthy, large-crystal sea salts that were used in local kitchens and restaurants. On his monthly visits back to the states, he’d pack his suitcase with bags of salt to give as gifts and fill up his stockpile of the good stuff.
When his job brought him back to America full-time, he had to find a way to source high-quality sea salt without the international airfare. When he discovered that hand-harvested American sea salt is relatively nonexistent, he set out to learn traditional European and Asian methods of salt harvesting in order to make the most of the clean waters off the coast of Oregon.
The result is Jacobsen Salt Co., producers of some of the first hand-harvested sea salt in Oregon since the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Photo by John Valls
Established in 2011, Ben Jacobsen and his small crew have transformed fresh sea water from Netarts Bay (the home of some of the best oysters in the world) into large flakes of salt fit for the best restaurants in the country. Their product is selling out in stores throughout Portland, and at times the crew works around the clock to keep up with the ever-increasing demand.
To make their salt, Jacobsen and his crew boil large quantities of thoroughly filtered seawater for several hours, then slowly evaporate the remaining liquid for up to sixteen hours. The salt crystals that are produced are denser than the remaining brine, so they precipitate to the bottom of the wide pan, where they can be harvested and fully dried. This slow and delicate process creates complex crystals of salt that express the terroir of the cleanest coast in America.
Oregon Coast. Photo by Allison Jones
Jacobsen selected Netarts Bay after sampling crystallized saltwater from dozens of locations up and down the Oregon coast. No major rivers or streams feed into the waters of the bay and there are no farms in the immediate vicinity, so there is little brackish muck or pollution to contend with. The sandy bottom of the bay acts as natural filtration, as does the farming of oysters. Before harvesting the seawater in large drums, the team checks for red tide or weather warnings to make sure their product is the best it can be.
In the next few months, Jacobsen will be moving his salt production from KitchenCru, a “culinary incubator” in Portland, Oregon, to a new facility on the coast. This will cut down on travel time—Jacobsen currently transports nine thousand pounds of salt water from the coast to Portland—and will also bring jobs and culinary attention to an area that has been hit hard by the economic downturn.
Jacobsen is passionate about producing world-class salt from the local foodshed, and he has plenty of new products, flavors, and collaborations up his sleeve. From the beginning, his salt dreams have been aimed at supporting local communities and their culinary potential. From the looks of things, he’s certainly succeeded.